Johnnie Walker

Review: Caol Ila 18 Years Old Unpeated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Special Release 2017) by Jason Hambrey

Caol+Ila+18+2.jpg
ABV
59.8%
Aging
18 years; Refill American Oak
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Caol Ila (Port Askaig, Scotland)

An 18 year old Caol Ila, unpeated - different from their typical releases. I’ve liked these in the past - I always like trying these.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Special Release 2017

  • Bottling Code: l7079cm000 51690150

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is awesome - rich marine malt, apple, sea salt, oak, grass, hay, spices, pineapple, and light vanilla.  Great nose. The taste has loads of hay, sweet light oak, mixed orchard fruit, clove, and a touch of chilli-type spice. A touch of tannic textre. Some rich leather-like aged notes too.  The finish is light, with oak, orchard fruit, toffee, and green wood.  Barley comes in nice at the end. It’s very rich! A nice deep malt.

It’s quite nice with water – it really shows off the depth of caol ila’s malt, even without the peat.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. A pretty expensive bottle of whisky.


Review: Caol Ila Unpeated 15 Years Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Diageo Special Release 2018) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Diageo.

Image courtesy of Diageo.

ABV
59.1%
Aging
15 years; Refill and rejuvenated American oak, ex-bodega European oak
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Caol Ila (Port Askaig, Scotland)

Another unpeated Caol Ila, this time 15 years old and at a whopping 59.1%! I quite liked the 2015 release, so I’m rather eager to see how this one plays out. I do prefer the peated caol ilas, generally, but I can’t help but be fascinated to see the unpeated spirit come through. This was distilled in 2002.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Diageo Special Releases 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is fruity and spicy, with stone fruits, dried apricot, light spice, and oak underneath. Still more….toffee, vanilla, a bit of earthiness, pear, mint. A bit tropical, and quite creamy especially at higher proof. Very candied at cask strength.

The palate carries all the flavours through – fruity, tropical notes, grain – and a touch of nice arugula at the end. Very well integrated. Lots of toffee, spice, and a bit of juniper too. Terrific mouthfeel. The finish has toffee, pear, canned peaches, white pepper, sugar candy, and a light herbal influence.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low to Average. It isn’t terribly expensive, and it’s a good bottle of whisky - it’s not quite on par with the average price for Scotch whiskies this good, but it’s close.


Review: Caol Ila 35 Years Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Diageo Special Releases 2018) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Diageo.

Image courtesy of Diageo.

ABV
58.1%
Aging
35 years; Refill American oak hogsheads, refill American and European oak butts
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Caol Ila (Port Askaig, Scotland)

The flagship whisky of the 2018 Diageo special releases. The oldest official Caol Ila bottling - I’ve had a few old independent bottlings of Caol Ila (like a 31 year old from Signatory which was quite good but not outstanding). Old peated scotch, matured in refill casks…nice!


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Diageo Special Releases 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is unbelievable. Leather, wax, ever-so-light smoke - wow! Unbelievable nose. A bit of mint, dried strawberries, guava, hazlenuts, almond, ashiness, menthol, cedar, dry earth, and old orange peel. The palate is rich, spicy, and a bit smoky! Very spicy - shocking - but this works really well and softens as it sits. Rich and balanced, with more leather and waxy notes and classic old whisky notes. Loads of toffee and spice develop towards the finish. The finish has light spice, and is rich and complex, with honey, sweet peat, light tannic oak, herbal notes, pistachios, and an elegant dryness. The smokiness fits so well. And then grainy, too!

The tropical notes are fascinating throughout, and I love them. One of the best scotch whiskies I’ve tasted - really good.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Low. Not a cheap bottle of whisky.


Review: Johnnie Walker Green Label Blended Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Johnnie Walker Green Label 1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
15 Years
Recipe
Blend of Single Malts
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

This whisky is probably my favorite Johnnie Walker, and it's only recently back after being off the shelf for a number of years. Unlike the rest of the lineup, it is a blended malt, meaning that it is composed of a blend of single malts with no grain whisky. Moreover, it carries a 15 year old age statement, is bottled at 43%, and lists many of the core malts used – talisker (wood smoke, pepper, oak, and rich fruits), linkwood (fruit, flower, and cedar), cragganmore (malty taste, slight smoke, and sandalwood), and caol ila (rich fruit, drying sea salt, and peat smoke). Moreover, an attractive bottle and a cork.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L7234DN001 00038026

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose presents a broad mix of fruits – apples, poached pears, mandarins, and peaches -  with toffee, honey, light smoky charcoal, maple, and touches of floral notes. Broad, lightly elegant, and easy – with soft edges. The fruits just grow, and grow – and the lightest touch of peat is brilliant. If you ever doubt this just add water – you can smell just about every non-tropical fruit you find in scotch whisky here. The palate starts sharp and lightly smoky, with drying pepper and loads of toffee and fruits to back everything up. The peat is nice – lightly smoky and vegetal – but it is so nicely integrated into the whole toffee-laden and fruity palate. Light finish with light spices and loads of fruit and toffee, fading relatively fast to a sweet, spicy, and slightly dry finish with a few nuts. Overall, it’s still a fairly light whisky so there must be some lightly flavored base here.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, at $80.


Review: Caol Ila 17 Years Old Unpeated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Special Release 2015) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
55.9%
Aging
17 years; Ex-bourbon casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Caol Ila (Port Askaig, Scotland)

Caol Ila produces both peated and unpeated single malt, and in fact supplies both streams as components of Johnnie Walker. It’s always nice, for the sake of interest, to see distilleries which primarily produce peated whiskies to release unpeated ones so we better understand distillery character beyond the peat. This was one of Diageo's yearly special releases which come from an assortment of different distilleries every year.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Special Release 2015

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Fruity – but less of a bright sort of fruity and more heavy– dried pineapple, dried apricot, hay, white gooseberry, stewed apricots, baked peaches – yet with the malt clearly in the middle of it all. Vanilla, light oak, cumin, black pepper, caraway, and light custard too – quite a complex offering, and it certainly doesn’t clash! These unpeated “marine” whiskies I often don’t find overly sea-like, but here there is definitely a light dried fish/seaweed edge to it. Brilliant. Terrific Oak in this one too.

The palate continues from the nose, with more oak coming in and with great feel. Some white pepper, too, is in the mix. The complexity from the nose carries through, but not quite as clearly – dominated by the fruitiness. The hay and malt notes take the background, and the spiciness is there, but light. The dried pineapple is still prominent. There is a nice chilli note here, too.

The finish carries through with peaches, oak, pepper, and some tannins (which are almost over the edge!).

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. A pretty expensive bottle of whisky.


Review: Caol Ila 12 Years Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43%
Aging
12 years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Caol Ila (Port Askaig, Scotland)

Caol Ila is perhaps best known not as a single malt, but as the heart of the smoky component in Johnnie Walker blends. It is located on the northeast part of Islay, far away from the peat powerhouses of Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg. Most of its production goes to Johnnie Walker, with limited amounts being released as a single malt. It does well for Johnnie Walker, and it does well for single malts - I really like Caol Ila.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L4188 CM000 03541633

  • Bottling Date: 2013

We have some balancing goodness here - tangy caramelised lemon (like one you’d pull out of a batch of roasted vegetables or a chicken), burning leaves, peat, spices, oak, and vanilla - all well balanced. Still - fruity and candy-like underneath. On that palate, a bit sweet - vanilla, rockpools, with some lingering smoke in the quality of burning leaves. Some creaminess too, with a light touch of bourbon notes. A little flatter on the palate than the nose. Malt grows and comes on more on the end, and the finish shows the grain so well. As I tasted and compared this to other whiskies the score kept going up – the nose is terrific particularly.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. It’s hard to find many good peated Scotch whiskies under 100$, and this is one of the few. However, it’s still not cheap.


Review: Johnnie Walker Black Label Blended Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
12 Years
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

For so many, this is the whisky that first attracts them. Often, Red Label is the first whisky experience, but this one is a cut above. For me, it was the first whisky in which I smelled the beauty of smoky peat, and I would often take my half bottle out of my cupboard and just smell it – not even pour any – but just take off the cap and give it a sniff. This, along with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, were really the two whiskies that started my love of whisky.

This iconic blend is certainly worth a try, if you haven’t yet…a 12 year old which is blended from roughly 40 whiskies.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose:  Smoke, apples, medium peat, sweet barley, pear, dried fruit, slight vanilla, complex – can really smell away for quite some time. A bit of oak and sherry…Great!

Taste: hit of peat at beginning, a bit fruity but not too sweet…there’s sweet barley which finishes with warm pepper and peat. Warms a bit at the finish, and is almost a bit bitter. It is intriguing because it is complex.

Finish: medium finish with a smoky aftertaste with lingering smoky sweetness. It fades for a bit, and stays in the mouth a while. Quite a deep finish, in fact – there’s some depth to the flavour. You can chew it a little.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, at $57.


Review: Johnnie Walker Red Label Blended Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

The world’s number one Scotch by bottles sold. A very iconic blend and in so many cases people’s first whisky experience. I like that Johnnie Walker doesn’t use age statements as the key to their branding (though they do affix an age statement on black label and platinum label), but, rather, the whiskies are known by label colour. Many people assume that older is better, which simply isn’t the case – it’s different. And, in some cases, too many years in oak can bring on some very unlovable oak bitterness. All this to say, I like the branding as it promotes the fact that the whiskies are different, age aside. For a blend, especially, it is true that the whiskies could be very different between the cheaper and more expensive versions as there may not even be any repeat component whiskies that make the blend (though this is unlikely).

John Walker, much like many of the early whisky blenders, was a grocer. Likely his expertise came from blending teas and even rums. His son was even apprenticed as a tea blender, and much of the blending techniques and principles for things such as tea and coffee are transferable to whisky. He would blend his whiskies and sell them right from his shop, and gradually as popularity increased so did the distribution of the whisky.This particular bottling dates back to 1867 where it was bottled as Special Old Highland Whisky. in 1909 it was rebranded as Johnnie Walker Red Label in line with the movement of branding, for which Scotch whisky was at the forefront with names such as Johnnie Walker and Dewar’s. Wikipedia features an excellent graph of Johnnie Walker blends and their start dates and original names, which I found quite neat.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: I find it interesting often to see the first aroma that hits my nose as I pour the whisky into my glass, before I have even finished closing the bottle or put my nose closer than 6 inches to the glass. For this one, it was distinct bartlett pears. As I stick my nose in, peat comes off quite clearly, along with some hard caramel candy, burnt brown sugar, caramel, liquorice, orange…slight vegetal note of leeks and a bit of celery.  Reasonably complex and quite well balanced. Honey comes out more and more as the glass sits. Some of the aromas don’t quite hit the button for me (the vegetal ones I mentioned above don’t quite mesh with the other aromas).

Taste: Mild, taking a while to get going…sweet at first with peat coming in and a candied nature (with the citrus and caramel and honey) throughout before the smoke picks up and dominates towards the tale end with just a touch of heat. There are some spices at the end of tingling white pepper and a touch of maltiness. I do really like the build up of peat smoke and the touch of dryness and spice at the end with a little bit of salt, but the beginning isn’t a whole lot to speak of, and the middle is a touch flat.

Finish: As the smoke fades we are left with the mossiness of peat balanced by a nice bit of light fruit and some brown sugar. It fades fairly quickly into a thin touch of peat and some mineral notes as well as a touch of the vegetal note I picked up on the nose. There is a touch of bitterness, as well, and a few sour notes which aren’t the nicest. It could be improved, but is quite decent nonetheless. It picks up a bit as you drink more, but it is still quite frail.

Value: Low. I’m just not much of a fan of this, even if it isn’t expensive for a Scotch.